by Kailee Haong
The first time I read a book where I felt I could relate to the characters was my senior year of college when a copy of Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng landed in my hands. I devoured it in less than two days because Wow, a story about a Chinese-American family. From that point on, I’ve spent countless hours reading stories, memoirs, and poems by and about other Asian and Asian American writers, trying to make up for lost time.
Everything I Never Told You holds a special place in my heart. The story follows the Lee family in the 70s who discover their beloved middle child, Lydia, drowned in a nearby lake. As the police investigate Lydia’s death, her family searches for answers, hoping to understand what could have happened to their daughter. Along the way, we learn more about the lives of the parents and their pasts.
Dismayed by the fact that I read this novel in my free time and had yet to have a teacher assign a book in any of my numerous English courses where I felt reflected in the characters, I emailed Celeste. I was thinking of the glowing submission form on her website as more of a sounding board, to thank her for writing, and ask what advice she had for another young Asian American writer. To my surprise, some many months later, after I had forgotten about it, I received a response. She answered my questions with a graciousness and sincerity that will stick with me forever. To end the email, she wrote: “The best advice I have for writers of color, is… please keep writing, about the things that matter most to you, and making more space for more stories to be heard! All the best wishes, and best of luck in YOUR writing.”
This Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (APAHM), I’m thinking back on this email from Celeste, and on her words in Everything I Never Told You and how I felt seen for the first time ever in literature. Since then, I’ve read and learned so many amazing things from authors and characters like me, but I’d like to dedicate this column to Celeste and the door of possibilities she unknowingly opened up for me, so my reading recommendation for this APAHM is Everything I Never Told You, a story about family drama, about immigration, racism, stress and expectations, sibling bonds and rivalries—you will hold your breath and not come up for air until you close the cover on the last page.
Kailee Haong is a queer writer and editor. She holds an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Eastern Washington University. Her work has been published in Split Lip, Moss, The Inlander, Spokane Coeur d’Alene Living Magazine, Lilac City Fairy Tales, and elsewhere. She writes & resides in the Pacific NW.